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5 Exercises for Wheelchair Users

5 Exercises for Wheelchair Users
We have many customers who use wheelchairs, whether permanently or for periods throughout the day, and we often hear how difficult it can be for them to take part in regular exercise routines. Around 85% of wheelchair users are not paralysed and can use their arms and legs to some extent to exercise, so there's every reason for them to keep their bodies strong and in good shape every day.

The time has come for a wheelchair-using Joe Wicks to emerge! But for now we’ve brought together some great exercises for wheelchair users to have a go at.

Getting started

If you’re new to exercising you will want to ease yourself slowly into a new routine to avoid any chance of injury. However, regular exercising in your wheelchair will be hugely beneficial to you. With just a few sessions you’ll start to notice:

  • Higher energy levels
  • Muscle begin to get stronger
  • Weight loss
  • Better well being - physical and mental
  • Positive mindset
  • Better sleep

With this in mind, here are 5 great exercises for wheelchair users to start doing today.

1) Arms and Shoulder Strength

Upper body strength is really important for wheelchair users who propel and push their own chair around. But even for joystick users, maintaining good arm and shoulder strength is essential for posture, pain relief and well being.


Start by sitting up straight in your chair.

Hold your arms out straight in front of you and position your hands as if holding an imaginary rowing machine.

Pull your arms back strongly towards your body until you feel your shoulder blades coming together.

Repeat 10 times.

For extra strength try this exercise with some extra weights - you could use hand dumbbells or even tins of beans for extra resistance!

For an alternative on this, wrap an exercise band around a solid post (for example, a stair post or outdoor metal railing). Hold an end of the band in each hand and follow the exercise by pulling the band towards you. The exercise band will add some extra resistance and build strength quickly. 

2) The Core Twist

This is a great exercise for working and strengthening core stomach muscles.

Sit up straight in your chair

Put your arms in front of you with your elbows tucked in close to your side (a little bit like a robot)

Squeeze your core muscles in tightly (suck in your tummy!) and turn your whole body from the waist to the right as far as you can go. You will feel a strong movement, but do stop if there is any pain.

Hold the pose for a couple of breaths then return to centre and repeat on the left side.

Repeat 10 times on each side

3) Chest Squeeze

Sit up straight in your chair and hold a football, exercise ball or even a balloon up to your chest.

Squeeze the ball hard (be careful with the balloon!) to start activating your chest muscles. The harder you squeeze the harder your muscles will be working.

Push the ball out in front of you until your elbows are nearly straight, and continue to squeeze the ball while you do so.

Pull the ball (or balloon) back towards your chest and repeat 10 times. Remember to focus and do this exercise slowly to really make the muscle work.

If you don’t have a ball, you can do this exercise with your hands pressed together instead.

4) Knee Lifts

If you can use your legs, this exercise is brilliant for strengthening your thighs and calves.Stronger legs means greater mobility - and if you’re able to manoeuvre yourself in and out of your chair, you’ll improve your stability and safety while doing this if you’re legs are in good shape.

Again sit up straight in your chair or wheelchair and engage your core, stomach muscles.

Put your feet flat on the ground or flat on your footplate.

Slowly lift one of your legs as far as you can comfortably manage and bend your knee back towards you.

Hold it for 5 seconds (of a couple of breaths) before lowering your foot down and repeating with the other leg.

Repeat 10 times with each leg

5) Cycling

For extra leg strengthening with a bit of cardio thrown in you could try using a pedal exerciser.

Place the pedal exerciser flat on the ground

Sit up straight in your wheelchair or chair and place your feet into the pedals.

Start pedalling while keeping your body sitting upright and with your core engaged.

You can pedal for just 5 minutes or for 30 - 60 minutes if you build up to this.

Try to vary your speeds for added interest, and to test your cardio endurance.

So there you have it. Be sure to check with your GP or consultant before you start any new exercise regime and always stop if you feel pain. 

For more help get in touch today.

We have over 40 years experience in medical, surgical, mobility and home health supplies and we're always on hand to chat if you need support or advice and don't forget to read our other great health blogs!

March 2022